Lebanon, Beirut, March-April 2015
The Chapter realized in Beirut was in collaboration with Syrian refugee women from the Association Basmeh y Zeitooneh in Shatila and Art Residency Aley, supported by the Swiss Embassy of Lebanon and the Ministry of Culture of Morocco.
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the stories of female Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been told through various media and reports by nongovernmental organizations, expressing great concern for their safety. Often separated from their husbands and family, as these women struggle to survive, many have experienced trauma and sexual targeting by Syrian and Lebanese men inside and outside the camps where they live. Some art initiatives are trying to create an image of these women beyond that of a victim, giving them voice through works that sensitively look at their lives and situations.
How does one discuss Syrian women who have sought shelter in Lebanon without falling into the trap of sensationalism? Some artists have addressed this by allowing the women to express themselves. Such is the case of Aglaia Haritz, from Switzerland, and Abdelaziz Zerrou, from Morocco, both visual artists.
Haritz ad Zerrou met in Paris in 2011 and decided to work together on a project, Embroiderers of Actuality. For this undertaking, they ask women in different locations — Cairo, Casablanca and Marrakech and this year Beirut — to create embroidery. Afterward, the two artists draw images, including on the embroidery, and create sculptures influenced by the discussions they have with the women. The works are then displayed in yet a different country.
“Embroidery is an excuse to get in touch with women from conservative societies and to get to know their world and stories,” Haritz told Al-Monitor. “We want to show these aspects in art spaces to bring light to their situation. While the women embroider, we talk to them, and we make sound recordings and videos, a kind of sound sculpture that reflects the work atmosphere.”
Each city presents different situations and stories, so each piece is different from all the others. “For example, in Beirut, we met with the women in the Basmeh wa Zeitooneh organization in Shatila camp. We sensed a strong issue of identity, so we took pictures of them and combined them with the embroideries, so we could highlight the women’s personalities,” said Haritz. “It was much easier to access and talk to them than in Morocco and Egypt.”
Embroidery allows the artists to spend enough time with the women to bring out meaningful stories about their lives. As Haritz explained, “Then we mix their masterpieces with contemporary art, from tradition to modernity, in order to confront them and give a complete picture of the situation.”
Article of Florence Massena, Al Monitor, 14 June 2015
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